Park biologist hopes fisher reintroduction can start this fall

Pacific fishers could be reintroduced at Mount Rainier National Park as early as this fall.

A number of steps have to be taken first, but that is the hope of Mason Reid, the park’s wildlife ecologist.

After announcing initial plans last August, the park is now developing an environmental assessment on the proposed reintroduction. Reid expects the assessment to be released in May. Following a public comment period, Reid hopes a decision to move forward will come in July.

Staffers at Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks are working with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to reintroduce this species to the North and South Cascades.

The Pacific fisher, related to the smaller pine martens and larger wolverines in the weasel family, has been considered absent from the North and South Cascades since the mid-1990s due to trapping and a loss of forest habitat.

The state agency has developed an implementation plan for the reintroduction, Reid said.

“The implementation plan calls for fisher releases in two reintroduction areas, the Southwest Cascades, which includes Mount Rainier, and the Northwest Cascades, which includes North Cascades,” Reid said. “The state agency has funding and the intent to begin reintroductions into the Southwest Cascades as early as this fall.”

Any reintroduction onto National Park Service land is contingent on the environmental assessment findings. The Park Service has limited funding to contribute starting in fiscal year 2016, Reid said, but they are looking into additional funding options to better coincide with the state agency’s funding and planning.

“Fisher releases are expected this fall,” Reid said. “Whether they occur at Mount Rainier or not depends on the environmental assessment, as well as the availability of fishers from the British Columbia source.”

An analysis of habitat shows there is a higher-priority area for a reintroduction to the south of Mount Rainier.

“We plan to release fishers into that area first, with subsequent releases at Mount Rainier,” Reid said.

“We need to release fishers in one area in sufficient numbers (8-9 or more, with a female bias) for them to become established,” he said. “If we get the 40 fishers we have planned, then releases in Mount Rainier should occur this fall.

“If we get substantially fewer fishers, then the likelihood of releases occurring in Mount Rainier declines. All of us are optimistic that we’ll get enough fishers to release in the park this fall.”

Fishers were listed by the state as an endangered species in 1998. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently evaluating whether the mammal should be protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. A proposed decision on listing is expected to come in September. If the fisher is listed under the federal act, Reid said the park and state would work closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service in recovering the species.

The state agency, working with the Park Service and Conservation Northwest, reintroduced fishers to Olympic National Park in 2008-2010. Some of those animals have gone on to have kits, and monitoring shows they have visited most parts of the Olympic Peninsula.